Since last year, I have been leading the congregation through Matthew – not exhaustively, but only focusing on what Jesus taught. The last few weeks and the weeks to come present some particularly challenging passages, all of which have to do with discipleship. In light of that, I thought I’d spend my newsletter space focusing on basic discipleship.
“Discipleship” is the word Christians use to describe the day-to-day habits that we use to become closer to Christ. The focus of discipleship is on spiritual disciplines: worship, scripture reading, prayer, study, service, giving, fasting, etc. There are more, of course, but these are the most common.
- Worship – is arguably the most important. I’ve heard worship described as both a “horizontal and vertical” experience. It is the only time we are with God and at the same time, with the people of God. Worship is level playing field. We connect with God and with one another. We were created for worship, and I would argue that of all the disciplines, this one is the most important. It is easy to skip, and hard to return to, so it’s best not to get in the habit of missing.
- Scripture Reading – The Bible is the place from which we get almost all our information about God and his gospel. As Paul reminds in 2 Timothy 3:13, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Scripture is also objective, providing guidance and correction when we need it, and encouragement and help when we seek it. Daily scripture reading can be a wonderful part of our faith journey.
- Prayer – Prayer is talking to God. We can’t be in a relationship with people we don’t talk to. In prayer we can ask God for all kinds of things – healing for the sick, prayers for our own spiritual growth, for world leaders and events; there is no limit. We also need to listen in prayer. Sometimes we hear God in prayer.
- Study – One of the primary reasons any church has a Christian Education program is to deepen our understanding of scripture and theology. Sunday School classes, therefore, are a great way to supplement other areas of spiritual growth.
- Service – This can happen formally, through a planned mission work of the church, or informally, like when a friend asks us to help them with moving or with a home project. Service puts us last and others first. It models the same kind of love that marked Jesus’ ministry.
- Giving – Giving is not only about what we put in the offering plate at worship, but also about examining the blessings God has given us and using those blessings to make a difference in people’s lives. Just as God is generous with his grace and mercy, so are we called to be generous.
- Fasting – This is when we forego food to spend more time in prayer while simultaneously depending on God. We can fast a meal, or for a one to three days. Fasting is prevalent in the scriptures, and we use fasting when we are desperately seeking God’s direction for something. Fasting is not something to be bragged about (“Oh, I can’t eat, I’m fasting…”). Fasting is not about us; it is about God. Anyone with a medical condition like diabetes should talk to their doctor about how to do this safely.
Doing any or all these disciplines will greatly add to personal discipleship. The irony is, that except for worship, none of these is required. One can believe, worship regularly, and that’s the extent of their discipleship. But if any Christian seeks to go deeper in their faith, spiritual disciplines are a must, and they are a source of great joy. My hope and prayer is that all of us would seek to incorporate spiritual disciplines into our faith journey and go deeper with Christ.